2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series: the Centers

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's "Mr Everything" (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The NHL season is around the corner, and for the second consecutive season, the Scouting Post blog is back to provide the season preview and deeper look at the Boston Bruins from a position-by-position perspective. The team will soon break training camp on the 2016-17 NHL season at a brand-spanking new practice facility- the Warrior Ice Arena- in Brighton, and although the World Cup of Hockey is up first, there is no shortage of subplots and storylines swirling around this Bruins club.

Given the optimism surrounding the team at forward, we’ll start with the centers. Now, some might take issue with beginning the series from what is Boston’s greatest area of strength, but I started with the goaltenders last year, so there is a method to the madness.

Unlike last year, I am including an audio component to each post, so that allows me to write less and talk a little more, which will save me from carpal tunnel, but will also go a little easier on your eyes. So, without any more foreplay- here we go.

The Bruins are strong at the center position up and down the roster. They don’t have any flashy, dynamic types, but in Patrice Bergeron, have the best two-way pivot in the game, despite what Selke Trophy voters last year would have you believe. David Krejci is the ole reliable playmaking center, but with offseason hip surgery casting his season in doubt, there are some concerns about his durability, especially as he is entering the new year on the wrong side of 30. The B’s big-money free agency ticket item from the summer, David Backes, will be previewed both as a center and a right wing- but we’ve yet to determine where the B’s will slot him, and that promises to be one of the more intriguing storylines as the team breaks camp. Ryan Spooner currently holds down the third center spot, and the fourth line pivot is wide open. Noel Acciari finished the final 19 games of the schedule after recovering from a shattered jaw in his rookie pro season, while fellow Providence College product Tim Schaller was brought in to provide competition in the offseason. The B’s also recently announced the signing of Dominic Moore to a one-year deal, and former 2006 eighth overall pick Peter Mueller, who is trying to make an NHL comeback after concussions and injuries derailed a promising start.

The B’s also have some interesting potential in the system. Whether you’re talking the tiny but ultra-skilled and feisty Austin Czarnik or the slick, cerebral 200-foot pivot in Boston University sophomore Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, the B’s have a couple of options that might not be as far off on the horizon as one might think. Neither is likely to have a great impact this year (though Czarnik is in the AHL and is a dark horse to make some noise and see some NHL action after his excellent rookie pro season), but both Czarnik and JFK are mature players who are likely to work their way into the mix sooner rather than later. The latter player has already drawn comparisons by people in the Bruins organization (as well as some outside the club) to Bergeron, which is a high bar to set for the Swede.

In addition to Czarnik, Colby Cave is an effective two-way center who had a scoring role as captain of the Swift Current Broncos (where he lined up with B’s 2015 1st-rounder Jake DeBrusk) and showed some flashes of ability as a rookie in 2015-16. Sean Kuraly was a center in college, but is expected to shift to wing in the pros, now that he’s expected to start out in the AHL at Providence.

The B’s stirred up some dust when they drafted U.S National (U18) Team center Trent Frederic with the 29th overall pick. Interestingly enough, management (to include the departed former chief scout Keith Gretzky to Edmonton to be Peter Chiarelli’s newest assistant GM) likened the St. Louis native and University of Wisconsin-bound power forward to none other than his childhood idol Backes, who gave up the captaincy of the Blues to sign with Boston a week after the 2016 draft. In Frederic, the B’s get a big slab of beef at the center position for down the road, and if you believe his various coaches who rave about his intelligence and work ethic, there’s more than meets the eye here- he could be a late-bloomer, though don’t expect all that much in terms of production. The B’s also added huge Finn Joona Koppanen (6-5), but he’s more of a defensive clampdown specialist, so even if he makes the NHL, it’s not going to be as a scorer.

A project who will be worth the wait in terms of ceiling and offensive potential is Harvard sophomore and 2014 2nd-rounder Ryan DonatoWatch for the South Shore (Scituate) product to make some noise- this kid is the real deal, and we think he’s going to break out in Cambridge now that Jimmy Vesey has moved on to Broadway. TSP has been a huge fan of Donato’s ever since watching him first dominate the New England prep circuit in 2012-13 and then raise the bar in his draft season. He’s as intelligent and skilled as they come, and knocks on his skating aren’t fair given that he’s bigger than his dad (he gets his size from his mother’s side of the family and a former NFL linebacker uncle), but the hockey sense and hands are elite. Wisconsin junior Cameron Hughes and rising freshman Jack Becker (6th and 7th picks in 2015) are also in the mix as potential payoffs, but will require time and patience, and even then- neither might not ever make it as viable pros.

Outlook: The Bruins have ability and depth up the middle. Bergeron and Krejci (when fully healthy) give the B’s as good a 1-2 punch as any team in the league, but how Backes will fit into that dynamic as the potential third-line center (or whether he moves up and plays a top-two line RW role) remains to be seen. We also have to see how Krejci fares at camp; now that he’s been ruled out of the WCOH for Team Czech Republic, he has some extra time to heal, but if he’s not ready to go, then it’s a no-brainer: Backes moves up to the second line behind Bergeron. Spooner is the source of quiet debate- he appears to be the odd-man out here, as he’s not an ideal fourth-line center if Backes is 3C, and he is one of Boston’s few real trade chips given his youth, skill level and cap-friendly deal (though he’s up for a new pact in 2017). Dominic Moore is a 36-year-old veteran who could mean that Acciari goes back to Providence for more seasoning, and of course- the B’s added Mueller to a PTO, though that is no sure bet that he will even sign or play center for them. Schaller is a wild card for the fourth line as well, but if he’s going to make the Boston roster, he’ll probably need to do it on the wing somewhere.

All in all- center will be the absolute least of Boston’s worries this season, as the team has talent, experience and a roster to weather injuries and unexpected setbacks.

Now, listen to the pod for more (and working on getting these exported to SoundCloud for those who want to do download and listen later- bear with me- it’s coming):

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka "JFK"

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

 

 

 

Report: Keith Gretzky to Oilers as assistant GM

Multiple reports on Twitter to include the esteemed Bob McKenzie have Bruins amateur scouting chief Keith Gretzky heading west to join former B’s GM Peter Chiarelli as part of the Edmonton Oilers braintrust. I chatted with a Boston team source who didn’t confirm it, but indicated it was a done deal, so all we do now is wait for the official announcement.

Gretzky, who joined the B’s scouting staff during the 2011-12 season after being let go from his previous post as chief scout for the Arizona Coyotes. Gretzky was promoted to the head scout position in Boston in August 2013, replacing Wayne Smith.

The move is not all that surprising, as Chiarelli brought the younger brother of Wayne Gretzky to Boston as a scout and then elevated him to head up the team’s drafting efforts after two seasons in a crossover capacity.

In the three drafts since, more optimism accompanied Boston’s efforts. Gretzky and Co. hit immediately on David Pastrnak, who slipped to 25th overall. However, every other player from that 2014 draft class looks promising as well: Ryan Donato enters his sophomore season at Harvard and is primed for bigger things in Cambridge. Danton Heinen has done nothing but impress after being an unknown plucked out of the BCHL in his second year of NHL draft eligibility, posting two prolific scoring years as Denver University. Heinen could win a job in Boston right away given his skill level and versatility. Anders Bjork was a fifth-round find and gem, who led the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in scoring as a sophomore, and even seventh-rounder Emil Johansson shows promise for being a late pick.

Gretzky’s 2015 draft could pay big dividends for Boston as well, even if some of the choices in the first round were not popular ones at the time. With 10 picks thanks to the Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic trades, the B’s have a bevy of prospects with a trio of second-rounders who have generated buzz in their own right. Time will tell whether not picking one or two of forwards Kyle Connor, Colin White and Mathew Barzal will hurt Boston in the long term, but Boston’s first six choices all seem to be developing, with 37th overall pick Brandon Carlo having the best chance to play in the NHL this season. Zach Senyshyn and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson show real promise at key forward positions (RW, C) and the B’s appear to have some potential in huge but lithe goalie Daniel Vladar (3rd round) and agitating winger Jesse Gabrielle. The B’s can’t employ all 10 of their draft picks from 2015, but they’re going to hit on a few at least.

This past June, Gretzky and his scouts went with Charlie McAvoy over Dante Fabbro– both will play at BU this season, but don’t be surprised to see McAvoy headed to the pro ranks sooner rather than later. Early returns on his Team USA development camp in Plymouth, MI this week are good and Ryan Lindgren (taken 49th) overall has really stood out. “He nearly killed a kid,” with a hard but clean open-ice hit, according to a text I got from an NHL scout on Saturday. The same individual also singled McAvoy out as the “best player on the ice.”

Gretzky caught some heat for the Trent Frederic pick and some of his subsequent comments where he admitted that the B’s don’t see the 29th overall selection as a top-six forward. He probably didn’t articulate that as well as he could have, but if we learned nothing from the Senyshyn pick the year before, it’s probably best to see how Frederic does going forward before casting judgment.

If Gretzky’s work with Boston was promising, then his track record in Arizona is more of a mixed bag. The Coyotes didn’t hit on a great deal of picks the team made on his watch, but the point I would offer up is that not every scouting staff in the league is the same. Just like the teams themselves- some clubs are more talented than others, and there’s always a multitude of factors that go into drafting. Even so, some in the business point to Gretzky’s tenure in Arizona, and with the jury still out on his Boston body of work, you just have to take it from there.

Boston could promote from within- Scott Fitzgerald is the club’s assistant director of amateur scouting and has recovered from a serious car accident in 2013 that nearly cost him his life. Dean Malkoc has also impressed as one of the club’s workhorse scouts who goes all over from his Western Canada base of operations to look for talent. Ryan Nadeau has done tremendous work in the NCAA ranks and elsewhere. B’s GM Don Sweeney could also bring in an experienced chief scout from the outside. It will be interesting to see.

All that is left to do is congratulate Gretzky for the promotion and move up. It hurts Boston, as he appears to have done fine work for the club in his five seasons here. He’ll join an Edmonton organization flush with major talent after winning the Connor McDavid sweeps a year ago and then falling into Jesse Puljujarvi at fourth overall in Buffalo. Old friend Lucic is in town, and we’ll see what Gretzky can do to help develop the talent in the system and identify new players down the road.

In the meantime, changes in Boston continue to shape the front office and Sweeney has another key hire ahead.

 

Bruins post-development camp prospect check- the Amateurs

McAvoy2

We’re back with part 2 of the mid-summer look at where the prospects in the Boston Bruins organization stack up.

As previously mentioned in part 1 when we reviewed 23 of the prospects who will play in the pro hockey ranks this coming season, this is a subjective list based on multiple inputs to include (but not limited to) live viewings and film study, input from members of the Bruins organization and some sources around the NHL not with Boston, media and fan observers who attended the recent development camp in Wilmington from July 12-15.

This is just one view and take- there will no doubt be disagreement, but I would offer that even if the Bruins as an organization released their own rankings of where they think their prospects stack up from 1 to 40-something, folks would still take issue with it. We would live in a mighty boring world if everything was definitive and we agreed on everything.

So, with that in mind, here is the supplemental podcast (complete with Dirty Harry theme music from the early 1970’s) and the write-ups on the kids expected to spend the season in the amateur ranks for 2016-17.

The Amateurs (NCAA and CHL/major junior)

  1. Charlie McAvoy, RD  Plus: The 14th overall pick has the skating and sense to become a legitimate two-way presence on the blue line in the NHL one day; watch for him to take a significant step forward in his development during his sophomore season at Boston University. Minus: He’s only about 6-foot tall; lacks the kind of ideal NHL height for the position, and needs to keep honing his judgment and decisions as an aggressive offensive player who can at times get too far up the ice.
  2. Zach Senyshyn, RW Plus: A year after tallying 26 goals on the bottom line and without much special teams time, the 15th selection in 2015 scored 45 goals to lead the Soo Greyhounds; he’s a big, explosive and skilled scoring presence on the right side. Minus: The goals are great, but the 19-year-old has work to do in his 200-foot game; he has a tendency to wait for the next scoring chance or let others go and get him the puck.
  3. Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, RC Plus: When it comes to maturity, poise and a complete game at the center position, no prospect brings more promise than the BU sophomore; he’s already earned an ‘A’ on his sweater, and has drawn positive comparisons to Patrice Bergeron for his pure intelligence and playing style. Minus: The Stockholm native and 45th overall pick from 2015 does’t seem to have the kind of exciting and dynamic offensive upside of others in his draft class, but he’s one of those players who will likely play 10-15 years as a key cog because he can do a little bit of everything.
  4. Jeremy Lauzon, LD Plus: Underrated no more after a 50-point season (he only played in 46 games due to WJC camp and injuries); 2015 second-rounder has skill, smarts and some jam/toughness as a two-way D prospect who keeps getting better. Minus: He gets lost in the sauce a bit with all of the competition for blue line jobs in Boston; had a tough time staying healthy with a variety of injuries including a serious skate cut to the neck that could have severed a nerve and ended his career.
  5. Ryan Donato, LC (Scituate, Mass.) Plus: Coming into his own after a strong freshman season at Harvard; was one of Boston’s real standouts at the development camp, showcasing his high-end hockey sense and hands throughout. Minus: Still several years away from competing for an NHL job; needs to keep developing the physical aspect of his game and must continuing moving forward in his three-zone progress.
  6. Jake DeBrusk, LW Plus: High-end hands plus very good hockey IQ/offensive creativity make DeBrusk a legitimate scoring threat every time he has the puck on his stick; good attitude and drive- overcame a debilitating lower body injury early in the season to finish strong in the WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup tournament. Minus: His size and strength are pretty average and he might be ‘tweener right now in terms of not quite being ready physically for the pro hockey grind- could return to the WHL for his overage season.
  7. Jakub Zboril, LD Plus: Came to camp leaner and in better shape with more jump and energy than was reported a year ago; when on his game has all the tools in the toolbox to be a No. 2 or 3 two-way NHL D with some bite and nastiness on the physical side.  Minus: At times loses his focus and appears disinterested; the positive strides last week are encouraging, but Zboril still has to prove that he can maintain his intensity and consistency over a longer period of time. He has impressive big league potential if he can put it all together.
  8. Jesse Gabrielle, LW Plus: Surprise (maybe not to him and his supporters) 40-goal scorer after being picked in the fourth round a year ago plays the kind of scoring game with an edge that Boston fans love; has worked himself into excellent shape and added strength and mass since being drafted. Minus: Will have to guard against a letdown season now that WHL opponents will be keying on him this year; as a ’97-born player he has to make the Boston roster out of camp or go back for a full season with Prince George- he can’t play in the AHL on a full-time basis yet.
  9. Ryan Lindgren, LD Plus: All-around skilled and hard-nosed defender is a proven leader and player; Minnesota product has no flaws in his game and could be the captain-in-waiting of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers if he spends enough years there. Minus: He’s only about 6-feet in height, so given his physical nature, he will face some limitations in certain matchups and could pay the price physically; there isn’t a ton of dynamic upside here.
  10. Ryan Fitzgerald, LC (North Reading, Mass.) Plus: Feisty, gritty center erupted offensively as a junior with his finest season for BC- will contend for the 2017 Hobey Baker Award. He’s got terrific hockey sense and a nonstop motor that inspires teammates and infuriates opponents. Minus: The size and skating concerns have followed him since before the long-time Massachusetts minor hockey standout was drafted at the end of the fourth round three years ago. Might need to move to wing to thrive as a pro.
  11. Anders Bjork, RW Plus: One of the top performers last week at development camp with his speed and energy, it all comes after he surprisingly let the Fighting Irish in scoring as a sophomore last season. Minus: Bjork is an interesting player to watch- he was a late fifth-round pick in 2014 and could be one who tries to leverage  path to free agency if the Bruins are unable to sign him this year.
  12. Trent Frederic, LC Plus: The polarizing pick in the 2016 draft’s first round has settled concerns down some with his fine size, athletic ability and willingness to roll up the sleeves and get to work. He’s a strong two-way player and solid citizen who might just be scratching the surface in terms of his offensive game and potential. Minus: There’s not a lot to get excited about here- Frederic has impressive physical tools but is raw and might not ever be much more than a bottom-six forward assuming he reaches the top rung of the pro hockey ladder.
  13. Wiley Sherman, LD (Greenwich, Conn.) Plus: Huge (6-7) defender is such a fluid, impressive skater for one so big and that’s always been his calling card going back to his days at the Hotchkiss School.  Minus: Scouts are divided on his long-term potential: the physical tools are on another level, but can Sherman react and process the game effectively enough to thrive in the NHL?
  14. Cameron Hughes, LC Plus: Highly skilled, creative playmaker was a late-round pick out of the Wisconsin Badgers and showed solid progression in his sophomore season with 25 points in 32 games- watch for his production to go up with new coaches who will lean on him. Minus: He’s a smallish player trapped in a light 6-foot frame that isn’t going to get all that bigger based on the body type; while talented, he can be neutralized by teams with size and mobility on the blue line.
  15. Matt Benning, RD Plus: Smart, opportunistic defender who plays bigger than his 6-foot frame and has been a standout at Northeastern over the past three seasons. Minus: Benning was not asked to attend development camp, and according to the ProJo’s Mark Divver, that could be a harbinger to his imminent departure from the organization either via trade or by pursuing similar action by Kevin Hayes, Mike Reilly and Jimmy Vesey to play out the NCAA string in 2017 and become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
  16. Cam Clarke, RD Plus: Smooth-skating intelligent rearguard can move the puck and excels with extra time and space as a PP QB; he’ll get a chance at premium playing time right off the bat at Ferris State. Minus: He’s still quite raw and observers pointed to times during the development camp when he was a little behind compared to other players. Clarke was drafted in the fifth round as a known project, and the payoff will take time if at all.
  17. Joona Koppanen, LC Plus: Big (6-5) center has the skating and smarts to make the NHL one day in more of a defensive, shutdown role; he’s seriously considering the NCAA path, which would be a good step for him.  Minus: There’s just not a whole lot there in terms of hands, offensive skill and long-term potential beyond being a serviceable bottom-liner and journeyman.
  18. Jack Becker, RC Plus: 6-foot-3 power center as some impressive finishing skills, especially in close when time and space are lacking; shows some intriguing offensive potential in flashes after a solid but unspectacular USHL season in Sioux Falls. He scored a memorable breakaway goal in the camp-ending scrimmage. Minus: University of Wisconsin-bound 2015 7th-rounder was once described as “thorny” by a scout in that he’s got a lot of developing ahead, and like Clarke- was said to struggle at times in camp last week with the pace and demands of the drills.
Trent Frederic was Boston's 2nd choice, 29th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

Trent Frederic was Boston’s 2nd choice, 29th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

Bruins add six more to organization via 2016 NHL draft

The 2016 NHL Entry Draft came and went in Buffalo, N.Y. and six new players are now a part of the Boston Bruins organization after 211 total kids were drafted on June 24-25.

This post is just a quick-hitter- plan to have a more in-depth, player by player break down of the new B’s, but this is what we call in the military a “hot wash” to give a rapid recap of what happened. You can also listen to 98.5 the Sports Hub at 10:00 a.m. Sunday to get a little more.

Here are the Boston picks by round with a few notes on each:

1-14: Charlie McAvoy, RD Boston University- The Long Island native instantly represents some of the highest NHL promise of any prospect in the Boston system. Like Jakub Zboril, he has a pretty good offensive skill set and talent level. Unlike Zboril, he stays engaged and doesn’t have the inconsistency questions. I spoke to both of McAvoy’s most recent coaches right after he was picked and what kept coming up beyond his obvious talent is just what a good teammate and solid kid he is. Don Granato, now with his brother at the University of Wisconsin, had McAvoy at the NTDP and said that we was one of the most loyal players he’s ever seen come through the program. Dave Quinn talked about a profound transformation and improvement in McAvoy’s game last season from start to finish- that’s something every scout will get on board with, end of story. I have to think that commitment and progress are two big things beyond his obvious talent that sold the Bruins on him. I verified with Keith Gretzky, Boston’s chief scout, that it was indeed close between McAvoy and Dante Fabbro, but in the end- I think McAvoy’s proximity to the team HQ allowed everyone to see him with ease and the Boston brass was a little more comfortable with the level of competition and viewings they had.

I said before the draft that the B’s needed a hit single and it looks like they may have gotten one. Central Scouting had McAvoy sixth on their list of NA skaters, and depending on who you talk to- some felt McAvoy was the best defender in the draft. Time will tell if he hits the potentially high ceiling, but he’s going to be one to watch and shouldn’t be too far away from turning pro- he’s going back to BU, but could be in Providence by April.

1-29: Trent Frederic, C U.S. NTDP- Amidst rumors that the Bruins were trying unsuccessfully to trade the 29th selection either for NHL help or a chance to move back a bit and get some extra choices in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, they stepped up to the podium shortly before 11 p.m. and made a surprise selection in landing the Missouri product and big center who was not projected to be a top-30 selection. Frederic has size and more of a defensive game than an offensive one (and that’s probably being charitable at this point), but he got high marks for his intelligence and character. In the short time I saw him after the pick, there was little doubt that Frederic brings a level of gregariousness that probably endears him to teammates and coaches alike- I get the feeling that fans will really like him in their off-ice interactions. Unfortunately, being a good dude doesn’t win you many hockey games, so there will continue to be scrutiny on this pick for some time, as Frederic is headed to Madison to play for the Wisconsin Badgers. BU coach Quinn was not shy about revealing that he was highly disappointed that his own Terriers missed out on landing Frederic.

In talking to Gretzky and assistant GM Scott Bradley after the draft, the team recognized a need to get bigger at center- all three of their NHL pivots are 6-foot or under, and Boston felt that Frederic is emerging as more of a scoring presence than his numbers and performance indicate to date. They also talked about a hand injury that hampered him for much of the season but that he’s gotten clearance on and has healed fully. We shall see, but with some higher-profile talent on the board at the end of the opening round, few are going to be excited about this pick, even if Frederic looks like one of those “high floor” kids who will play in the NHL for years.

2-49: Ryan Lindgren, LD U.S. NTDP- The Team USA captain is a player I am genuinely excited about. Along with Fabbro, he was probably one of the top-2 or 3 best defenders at the entire Under-18 tourney in April and he’s as polished, refined and solid a defenseman as any available in the draft. He was always seen as a steady, strong defensive presence- a strong positional player who will sell out his body to block shots and brings tremendous competitive drive to any situation. However, in Grand Forks- he looked like something more than that as someone who was pushing the pace, attacking aggressively on offense and showing an opportunistic side that will likely earn him a lot of confidence at the University of Minnesota. The B’s brass is excited to add this player- he has the makings of a rock on the second pairing who will eat huge minutes and has enough offensive presence to boost the team at both ends of the ice. Again- character is key and he has it. He brings an intensity and commands respect that makes it clear why he wore the ‘C’ for two years in the NTDP.

I cannot stress enough how much I like this player and the decision to take him at 49- I would have been pleased if Lindgren had been the 29th selection and to be honest- when Charles Jacobs announced “From  the U.S. National Team…” I thought he was getting ready to say Lindgren’s name on Friday night. That the B’s landed him the next day at 49 reminds me of 2010 when Boston grabbed Jared Knight at 32 and Ryan Spooner at 45. I thought it should have been the other way around then and time has validated that view.

5- 135: Joona Koppanen, C Ilves (Finland)- The natural reaction I’m sure with a lot of folks once they asked the “who?!” question when the pick went up on the big board was to start drawing lines of comparison to another recent JK from Finland- Joonas Kemppainen– and that is not a good thing. It’s unfair to the kid, because let’s face it- he is a kid and Kemppainen came to Boston with a lot of pro experience (and bad habits) and didn’t work out for a lot of reasons. Koppanen is 18 and deserves a clean slate. The similarities between the two are no doubt there- Koppanen is already 6-5 and is defensive, clampdown center who uses his size and reach to clog the middle of the ice and does honest work along the boards. Right now, there is not much in the way of an offensive dimension in his game, but he looks to be a more physically engaged player than Kemppainen was in Boston a year ago. I saw Koppanen in Grand Forks when he was with the gold medal-winning Finnish team and there isn’t a whole lot more you can say about him- he’s a north-south, shutdown center who is very good on draws and does the grunt work to grind people down, but at the end of the day isn’t going to wow you in any way. His 0 points at the tourney can attest to that, but I have time for him as a long-term fourth-line center project. This is the kind of thing you get in a shallow draft once you start getting into the fifth round and beyond.

5- 136: Cameron Clarke, D Lone Star (NAHL)- The top defender in U.S. Jr. B is already 20 and rapidly blooming as an offensive defenseman who can really get the puck up the ice and boost his team’s offensive production, especially on the power play. I saw him quite a bit in Fort Worth this year and he’s a tall (6-2) still quite lanky player from Michigan who has a connection to the Krug family through conditioning work and off the ice. Clarke skates well, but his pivots and transitions were a little slushy- he’s working on it and it will be interesting to see if he improves on that, because he has an impressive wiggle at the blue line and is an extremely smart, adept player once he gets into the offensive zone. Ferris State is getting a good one and this pick gets a hat tip because Clarke looks like one of those later values who is a little rough around the edges, but is worth the investment on. Other teams were onto him and he would not have been there in the sixth round. If I had to guess, I’m thinking that Ryan Nadeau and Keith ‘Sully’ Sullivan probably had a major hand in getting down to see him in the hockey backwater that is North Texas and credit to the B’s for grabbing a player with upside and who is closer to helping them than any 18-YO taken at that spot would be. Excellent pick (acquired from Minnesota last year when Boston traded out of the 6th round).

6- 165: Oskar Steen, F Farjestad (Sweden)- Okay- I’ll admit it. I don’t really get this pick. On the plus side- Steen is a versatile, smart, industrious forward- he’s kind of like a swiss army knife in that he can do a lot of different things for you. I saw some flashes from him at Grand Forks and he’s put up some points in Sweden along the way and in other tournaments. But here’s the thing- he’s 5-9. The B’s had multiple shots early on at other 5-9-ish forwards who all had a world of skill more than Steen does and they passed. I’m just not sure where the kid fits in the long term and how much of a projection he’ll have in the NHL as a winger who is small but neither dynamic nor explosive. I like his energy and vision, and was told that P.J. Axelsson is a big fan, so there’s that. And we have to remember that Steen is a sixth-round selection in a shallow draft, so his chances of going all the way are pretty low. Having said that, off the top of my head, I do believe that Axelsson himself was the 177th pick in 1995, so it isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility.

Quick thoughts: The McAvoy, Lindgren and Clarke picks all get A/B+ grades from me- they’re exactly the kinds of defenders the B’s can use and give the organization some solid options in the youth movement when you add some of their other recent picks and prospects into the mix. Some might not see McAvoy as a high-ender, but I think he’s in that kind of discussion, based on talks with several NHL scouts, who told me that they felt he would have blitzed the OHL this year and probably would have ended up as a top-10 pick if he had gone there.

The forwards don’t bring much in the way of offensive skill that gets you excited, and to Boston’s credit- they’re not trying to sell them as such. Gretzky said that the organization identified an issue with their size and toughness to play against at the center position and added two big pivots who could address that. It’s not likely both play, but you never know and Frederic, while not a popular pick at 29, could evolve into something more than he’s shown to date. We’re not going to definitively decide on that today, no matter how much of a reach you think he was, or whether you like what you see and want to put faith into Boston’s optimistic outlook. We just don’t know. Koppanen and Steen are depth additions who will likely make their countries’ World Jr. teams at some point in the next 1-2 years and we’ll see how they do.

Kyle Woodlief of Red Line Report was not all that charitable, saying that “The Bruins have had five first-round picks in the last two years and they haven’t made as much hay as they should have.”

Again, we shall see, but I can’t disagree with that view.

Contrast the second round, and the outlook is different: Brandon Carlo, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Jeremy Lauzon and Ryan Lindgren– those guys all look like players who will see NHL time. If not, they might bring enough interest to leverage some trade returns that help the club. And those are just from the second rounds from the past two seasons.

Overall- it’s hard to imagine Boston fans being overly excited about the 2016 draft, but they added a few soid players with one possible homerun in McAvoy. Sometimes it’s tough to swallow when the sexy names don’t come off the board where everyone thinks they should, but assembling winning teams doesn’t always simply amount to stockpiling the best talent- the team has to take players who represent the right fit and help them address key areas. I don’t know that guys like Frederic, Koppanen or Steen do that, but unless they have crystal ball- neither does anyone else.

Bruins prospects in their draft years 2013-15

Back with part two of the look at Bruins prospects and how they were projected in their draft seasons by Red Line Report.

In case you missed it, I did this exercise with the 2015-16 NHL Bruins roster here...and part 1- the 2010-12 NHL drafts and B’s prospects and free agents in those draft years are covered here.

And…we’re off:

2013

Ryan Fitzgerald, C Drafted: 120 (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 52                    Key comment: “Not big but we like the high hockey IQ and bloodlines.”

Observations: RLR rated him high in 2013, and that might have reflected his standing in the first half of the season with the USPHL’s Valley Jr. Warriors, as he had a downward trend heading into the draft. The nephew of Bruins assistant amateur scouting director Scott Fitzgerald is a gritty, feisty if undersized pivot for Boston College, who is coming off his finest NCAA year as a junior. In similar fashion to Seth Griffith, Fitzgerald’s major knocks are a lack of size and dynamic speed for his stature, but he has terrific hockey sense and a nonstop motor. You have to like his bloodlines- dad Tom Fitzgerald played more than 1,000 games and is Ray Shero’s assistant GM with the New Jersey Devils. Ryan grew up around the game and knows what it takes to be a pro. The Fitzgeralds are hockey royalty in New England, so it looks like the 2013 fourth-rounder will go back to BC for his senior year and then sign in spring 2017 when his eligibility is exhausted.

 

Linus Arnesson, D Drafted: 59  (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 75                       Key comment: “As B.B. King would say- ‘the thrill is gone.'”

Observations: A late 1994-born player, Arnesson likely would have been taken in the late first/early second in 2012, but another year of viewing moved him down in the rankings over a lack of offensive potential. With his size and skating, Arnesson at one time looked like a potential top-2 NHL defenseman who might have some power play chops at the highest level, but as scouts got a longer look at him in an extra 2012-13 campaign, it became more evident that the steady Swede was more of a “safe” and unspectacular positional defensive defenseman than one who joins the rush and has the hands and head to be a presence on the score sheet. The good news for the Bruins is that they didn’t draft Arnesson in the late first round, so getting him at the end of the second was decent value for them. He showed promise at the end of 2014-15, when he came over to finish the season in Providence, but this past year- his first full AHL campaign was a bit of a bust as he battled nagging injuries and rollercoaster play. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a future in the Bruins organization, and as a guy who plays a vanilla game, he could earn a recall at some point if the team needs a solid defensive presence. Having said that, he looks like something the B’s already have in abundance: a 4/5/6 player who provides okay depth but best case would be an unheralded second pairing D who puts up at best 15-20 points a season but works well with a more offense-minded partner. The old adage on defense in hockey says that if a player is doing his job well, you don’t notice him. That appears to be the case with Arnesson, but the Bruins were hoping for more than that when they took him with their top choice three years ago (after giving up their first-rounder to Dallas for Jaromir Jagr).

 

Peter Cehlarik, LW Drafted: 89  (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 111                         Key comment: “Tall & lanky with great hands but feet betray him.”

Observations: This late riser ended up generating some draft buzz and is still an intriguing if oft-forgotten man when it comes to prospect discussions. The Slovak, who has spent the past three seasons playing in Sweden, is a top-six NHL forward dark horse kind of prospect, but he’s also one of those guys who is tough to peg because if he doesn’t make it as a scorer, it’s hard to envision him playing a heavy and responsible enough game to succeed on the third or fourth lines in Boston. His initial first steps are a bit clunky, though with a long, efficient stride, he can work well in open space with good straight line speed. Cehlarik improved his skating from when he was first drafted, but it will never be a strength. He has a quick release that allows him to score goals off the rush- an-instride drive that sometimes handcuffs goalies. He’ll also take the puck in close and shows some pretty fine dangle in getting net minders to open up and commit. Don Sweeney once described the puck coming off his stick as a “slingshot”to me, so there’s that.

 

Wiley Sherman, D   Drafted: 150  (5th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 125                 Key comment: “Getting around him is like circumnavigating the globe.”

Observations: Drafted as an identified project, Sherman is similar to O’Gara in that he has a lot of developing to do. The Greenwich, Conn. native is more of a gentle giant at 6-foot-6, but with his wingspan and long reach, along with pretty agile footwork for one so big, he’s tough to beat 1-on-1. He’s not a physical force but is more of a smart positional defender who angles opponents away from his net and sacrifices his body to block shots rather than look for open-ice kill shots and hammering players along the boards. When Sherman has time and space, he’s capable of moving the puck out of his own end, but when the game closes in on him quickly, his processing time lengthens and he can be forced into turning it over. Drafted out of Hotchkiss School, he took an extra year of prep before getting to Harvard, so he’s still pretty raw and will likely take the full two years remaining on his NCAA eligibility before the B’s will assess whether to bring him into the organizational fold.

 

Anton Blidh, LW      Drafted: 180  (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: One RLR European staffer summed up Blidh succinctly in Newark after the pick was made: “Gritty rugged guy, but no skills.” I’ll admit- have not really seen much to this player in the three years since he was drafted, even when he had a nice 2015 World Jr. tourney for Team Sweden. He’s gritty and rugged, but plays a very simple, straight-line game. It’s a nice fit for what the Bruins like, but Blidh is a dime-a-dozen kind of guy and it stands to reason given where they selected him. He’s not someone who is going to suddenly wake up and start lighting it up, but the team could do a lot worse than Blidh on the fourth line or in a pinch. In other words- as long as you take him for what he is, there’s no reason to get excited.

 

2014

Ryan Donato, C                        Drafted: 56  (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 65               Key comment: “Great bloodlines and hockey sense with soft hands.”

Observations: The B’s grabbed the son of one of their hometown favorites and the pick looks solid two years later. Coming out of his freshman year at Harvard under dad, Ted, the younger Donato also earned a Bronze medal at the 2016 WJC with Team USA. He’s always been a heady, creative playmaking center who is bigger than his dad but doesn’t have the blazing wheels. With the Crimson, Donato showed signs of being on track to be a dominant NCAA scorer in the next couple of years. The B’s can afford to be patient with him and they will- there is no reason to rush him to the big show.

 

Danton Heinen, LW/RW           Drafted: 116 (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: Nobody (outside of the NHL clubs on him) hit on Heinen…not one scouting service had him even ranked, and RLR was no exception. Two years later, Heinen scored nearly 100 points, making an immediate impact as a freshman and then following it up as a sophomore, leading the Pioneers in scoring after a slow start. He signed with Boston in April, giving up his last two years of NCAA eligibility to turn pro. Heinen made positive waves in his first AHL contest with Providence, registering a multi-point effort. He came down to earth a bit in the playoffs, but the British Columbia native looks like an intriguing playmaking wing, who uses his superior vision and creativity to control the flow and tempo in the offensive zone. He looks like a keeper. As for the questions surrounding Heinen and whether he can make the Boston roster right away, it probably wouldn’t kill folks to exert a little more patience and let him at least start in Providence to see how he adjusts to the pro challenges. He’s a talented forward with an intriguing ceiling if he continues his development, but let’s see how Heinen looks at his first pro training camp before penciling him into the Boston opening night lineup.

 

Anders Bjork,  RW      Drafted: 146 (5th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 178               Key comment: “Has the skating and the work ethic to make it as a checker.”

Observations: This late-round value pick is coming off a very good sophomore campaign at Notre Dame. He’s quick out of the starting blocks, accelerating quickly and demonstrating a nice short-area burst, which makes him highly effective on the fore check. He’s an energetic player and relentless in puck pursuit, but with the Fighting Irish this season, Bjork showed surprisingly consistent offensive flair, leading the club in scoring. He’ll need to keep putting up the points to project as something more than an ideal third-line forward, so expect him to come down to earth a bit next season, but he certainly looks like a nice value pick in the fifth round for the B’s because of his well-rounded game and smarts.

 

Emil Johansson, D      Drafted: 206 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

Observations: A lack of hockey sense had him off of RLR’s list, but Johansson had a strong finish to the 2015-16 season that might earn him more of a hard look going forward. He’s got a bit of a doughy build and has been knocked for his conditioning in the past. Johansson is a capable skater who moves well laterally, and handles the puck with confidence. When it comes to vision and hockey IQ, we’re not all that sure if he’s got what it takes between the ears to play at the NHL level, but admittedly- he’s made a case to at least be in the conversation. It appears he is leaving his HV71 club for MoDo, so we’ll see what comes next in his development.

 

Colby Cave, C         Drafted: Undrafted (Free Agent- Boston 2015)

Red Line ranking: 85                  Key comment: “Complete centre is versatile- can excel in any role.”

Observations: Ranked in both 2013 and 2014 RLR draft guides, he’s an industrious two-way center that impressed in Swift Current with 2015 first-rounder Jake DeBrusk before getting signed by Boston before the team made his teammate one of three top-15 picks in Sunrise. He skates well and like Bjork shows some real energy and tenacity when pressuring the opposing puck carrier coming out of the zone. He didn’t put up big numbers in Providence, but had his moments and looks like he could challenge for lower line duty in Boston if he keeps progressing.

 

2015

Jakub Zboril, D         Drafted: 13 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 26                  Key comment: “Intense, and a physical specimen with a cannon shot.”

Observations: The Bruins missed out on an impressive top tier of defenders in the top-10, instead settling for arguably the next best player in Zboril, at least in terms of talent. Ability-wise, there is no doubt the Czech product could be a top-3 defenseman in the NHL one day, but the consistency and effort levels were at times lacking in his draft season. He took a step back statistically this past year, struggling at the beginning of the season before settling into a more defense-oriented role for Danny Flynn’s Saint John Sea Dogs. Zboril plays with a physical edge and when on his game, he’s as good as anyone, but the wavering intensity and at times nonchalance has led to questions about his commitment. We’ll see if he can mature and figure it out, but there’s a reason he wasn’t a top-10 pick a year ago, and Zboril didn’t help himself a great deal last season. This time around, a bounce-back campaign would be nice, but because he’s a 1997-born player, he either has to make the Boston roster out of camp or go back to the QMJHL. That has led to speculation that he might take his game to Europe in 2016-17.

 

Jake DeBrusk, LW        Drafted: 14 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 25                  Key comment: “42 goals and NHL bloodlines will attract attention.”

Observations: The son of former NHL enforcer Lou DeBrusk, the Red Deer Rebels forward finished strong with an excellent WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup tournament after a tough year offensively. Dogged by a significant lower-body injury early on, DeBrusk was then traded by Swift Current to the Memorial Cup host city club in late December, where he appeared to be getting his production on track before getting moved around various lines and scoring at a little over a point-per-game clip. It was a step down after scoring 42 goals a year ago, but DeBrusk is still a smart winger with impressive offensive hockey sense, and he showed some opportunistic offense with the spotlight on him in the Memorial Cup last month. As a late 1996-born player, the Bruins have options: he is signed and can spend the next season in Providence, or they can return DeBrusk to the WHL for his overage season. He’s a good kid who has been unfairly maligned because of where he was drafted and the fact that most public scouting lists had him in the 20’s, but he went about 10 spots earlier. Still- 42 goals is 42 goals- watch for DeBrusk to elevate his stock because he’s got the skill, smarts and dedication to be more than the sum of his parts. He’s got to get stronger, which could factor into a decision to send him back to junior, and his skating isn’t subpar, but he could stand to add some quickness in his first few steps. He compensates at this level by reading the play so well and bursting to pucks in open ice, but that will be tougher to do in the pro ranks with the reduced time and space.

 

Zach Senyshyn, RW        Drafted: 15 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 46                  Key comment: “Love his combination of size, skating and edginess.”

Observations: The first big surprise off the draft board in 2015 sparked an immediate wave of negativity from many who had never even seen him play. At 6-2, he can really skate, rapidly exploding to top speed in just a few long strides, and often times blowing by defenders on the outside and taking pucks straight to the net. He went from 26 to 45 goals from his draft season, but there is still significant room for improvement in Senyshyn’s game, and folks should not see failure if he is returned to junior before the next season. Though an impressive physical specimen, Senyshyn still needs to develop a more complete game and avoid the tendency for younger scoring forwards to hang out and wait for their next offensive chance. The payoff on this player could be big so long as people are patient, because he has the natural NHL tools to be a top-six forward one day, but some guys take longer than others, and the B’s can afford to wait a little. Like Zboril, Senyshyn can’t play full-time in the AHL next season if he doesn’t make the Boston roster out of camp.

 

Brandon Carlo, D                     Drafted: 37 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 41                   Key comment: “Huge with improving puck/skating skating skills. Big upside.”

Observations: The gigantic Colorado product is already a fan favorite and he has all the makings of a dominant shutdown defender who can at some point help get the Boston blue line group pointed in the right direction. Like DeBrusk, Carlo can play for Providence next season, but it might all be moot, as this huge, mobile defender might just break camp and enter the season on Boston’s roster. Not to put a lot of pressure on the Tri-City Americans rearguard, but he’s talented enough to play right away. The big question is whether the Bruins will opt to let him play a bigger role in the AHL before making a decision. Either way, we’re pretty much looking at a player who looks like as solid a bet as any to play in the NHL. The question we’re left with is what kind of impact Carlo will have: on the positive side- he can really skate for a 6-5 player, with speed and agility, and he can fire off cannon drives from the point. Alas, not real sure of the vision and natural hockey sense, but his game is good enough to reach the NHL, even if he tops out as a solid 3-4 shutdown guy at that level.

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C             Drafted: 45 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 70                   Key comment: “Strong two-way pivot but a bit mechanical.”

Observations: Swedish product is coming off a superb freshman season at Boston University. A lot of observers have drawn comparisons to Patrice Bergeron, which sets the bar pretty darn high for the player known as “JFK” but he sets himself apart with his refined game, smarts and overall poise. Forsbacka-Karlsson showed a natural flair for winning draws and despite not having high-end speed, shows a nice changeup of gears through the neutral zone and often pulled players out of position with a series of deceptive movements and head fakes. With soft hands and a natural knack for threading the needle, the sky is the limit for this kid, who left home in Sweden to adjust to North America in the USHL for two years before joining the Terriers. In hindsight, RLR had him a little low for what he’s shown in the early going.

 

Jeremy Lauzon, D                          Drafted: 52 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 59                   Key comment: “Vastly underrated blue liner can hit, skate and score.”

Observations: This Red Line favorite went right around where he was projected by our Quebec guys, who saw him surge nicely in the second half. In 2015-16, he took his game up a notch, establishing offensive highs in assists and points, despite fighting through injuries that forced him out of the lineup and hampered his progress in the second half. He managed to return from a horrific skate cut to the neck during the second round of the QMJHL playoffs. His Rouyn-Noranda Huskies won the league championship, and he was able to get back to action in the Memorial Cup tournament, dropping the championship game to the London Knights. Lauzon skates well enough, though he’s still addressing his transitory skating mechanics- the pivots and turns can be a little slushy at times. He has a big shot, deft passing touch and will hit and fight to defend teammates when necessary. He could be the best of the three defensemen drafted by Boston in 2015.

 

 

Daniel Vladar, G                           Drafted: 75 (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 67                   Key comment: “Poor technique, but he’s 6-5 and a human gumby.”

Observations: When it comes to high ceilings for goaltenders, Vladar was among the leaders in the class of 2015.  He played well for the USHL’s Chicago Steel, splitting the starts and posting respectable numbers, but the Czech native is still raw and years away from staking a claim for NHL time in the crease. Interestingly enough, the Bruins signed Vladar to an ELC, making him ineligible to return to the USHL, and it looks like Vladar could play in the ECHL or AHL next season. Don’t rule out a spot in the CHL despite the ban on European net minders if Vladar’s agents can successfully argue a loophole that establishes North American residency for him over the last 12 months. I guess we will see.

 

 

Jesse Gabrielle, LW                        Drafted: 105   (4th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 132                   Key comment: “Naturally abrasive cuss plays like a burr up under the saddle.”

Observations: At one time thought of as a potential second-rounder, Gabrielle slid to the fourth round, where his favorite team snapped him up.  One year later, he exploded for 40 goals after being dealt from the Regina Pats to the Prince George Cougars last August. Gabrielle is about 5-11, but is a thick and sturdy 205 pounds- he plays like a little wrecking ball, driving through traffic and getting pucks to the net the old fashioned way. He’s also very tough to play against as he dishes out big hits, is nasty along the walls and will go after anyone who crosses him. Gabrielle is an exciting prospect as someone who had modest expectations this season and blew them up. The key for him will be to keep progressing now that he’ll have opponents keying on him and will likely be playing back in the WHL this season as a 1997-born player. Unfortunately, the AHL is not an option for him until 2017-18

 

Cameron Hughes, C                        Drafted: 165   (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 71                  Key comment: “So underrated, underscouted he may not get drafted.”

Observations: Well, the draft snub didn’t happen- the B’s grabbed him in the middle of the sixth round- but if you put a lot of stock in the Red Line rankings, then the team got a heck of a value with the Alberta native there. A highly creative and skilled playmaking pivot, Hughes impressed RLR staffers going back to the 2013-14 season when he was a standout in the AJHL with the Spruce Grove Saints. Unfortunately, Hughes had the double whammy in his draft year of playing on a poor Wisconsin Badgers team, coupled with being physically under-developed in going up against the bigger, stronger, older NCAA competition. Hughes had a better offensive season as a sophomore and showed some flashes of NHL-caliber ability (he could work his way up to second-line center one day, as crazy as that might sound today), but the consistent production wasn’t there for him. Under a new coach and perhaps being a year older and a better surrounding cast, watch Hughes to open up some eyes this coming year.

 

Jack Becker, C/W                                         Drafted: 195 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 222

Observations: The Mahtomedi HS-drafted player and University of Wisconsin recruit had a pretty average USHL season with the Sioux Falls Stampede, scoring eight goals and 22 points in 58 games. He’s got a big frame and has some intriguing skill, but is a long shot to ever do anything of substance in the NHL. We’ll have to take the long view and see how he looks in the NCAA, but all signs point to a slow transition that will take a few years and we might not even have a realistic view on his development path until 2018 at the earliest.

 

 

Bruins prospects update- the Amateurs

We took a quick season-ending look yesterday at the B’s pro prospects who are now officially in the offseason (minus a few of the European players- oversight on my part).

It’s time to look at the major junior and NCAA (plus the Euros I didn’t include) players and provide some observations on how their seasons went, signing status and what could be next for them. As Jake DeBrusk and Jeremy Lauzon are still playing, they are not included- we’ll wrap them up after the Memorial Cup is over.

Jack Becker, C (2015 draft- 7th round): Minnesota high schooler when drafted went to the USHL this season with the Sioux Falls Stampede prior to entering University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall. The Mahtomedi native is a pretty raw product, still growing into his frame and developing an underrated skill set. It will likely take him some time to transition into being an impact performer with the Bulldogs, but for a seventh-round pick, there is some interesting long-term potential here. Current status: unsigned.

Matt Benning, D (2012 draft- 6th round): The nephew of Vancouver  (and former Boston assistant) GM Jim Benning was a key cog in the Northeastern Huskies’ run to the Hockey East championship. He doesn’t have ideal height, but plays a rugged, physical and smart defensive game and is a little underrated in terms of his vision and passing skills. He’s not going to be a big point producer in the pros, but he plays bigger than his modest 6-foot frame and looks like a future third-pairing guy and special teamer. Currently unsigned, though reports at the end of the season had the Bruins expressing interest in bringing him out of the NCAA on an ELC.

Anders Bjork, RW (2014 draft- 5th round): This sophomore had a breakout season with the University of Notre Dame, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring with 35 points in as many games. He’s a fast two-way winger (he spent most of his time on the off-wing this season) who doesn’t project as a high-end scorer in the pro ranks, but is a versatile, opportunistic three-zone player. He could very well develop into one of the better third-line forwards in the NHL one day, but as a late-round pick with other similar prospects in the mix, there is no reason to rush the Wisconsin native to turn pro. Current status: unsigned.

Peter Cehlarik, LW (2013 draft- 3rd round): The 90th overall pick out of the Swedish Hockey League is a Slovakia native coming off his best pro season. He tallied 11 goals and 20 points in the regular season for Lulea, then followed up with three more tallies in 11 games in the postseason, reaching the SHL semifinals before falling to eventual champion Frolunda. With a 6-foot-1 frame and weighing in at about 200 pounds, Cehlarik has the size to do effective work in the high danger areas and along the walls, but needs to get heavier on the puck. His skating has improved since he was drafted, but he’s still relatively average in terms of his initial burst. Has quick hands and a heavy shot. Current status: unsigned.

Ryan Donato, C (2014 draft- 2nd round):The son of his Harvard coach (and former Bruin Ted Donato) is the Brookline-based Dexter School’s all-time leading scorer (he played there under his uncle, Dan Donato) is coming off a strong freshman campaign. He split 2014-15 between the USPHL, prep school and the USHL. The skilled and cerebral center hails from Scituate, Mass. and earned a bronze medal in the 2016 World Jr. Championship tourney in Helsinki last January. He’s got a real head for the game plus silky-smooth hands and is bigger than his dad was (though not as fast a skater). He’s another project that will take more time to develop, but could challenge for top-six forward status in Boston one day. Current status: unsigned.

Ryan Fitzgerald, C/W (2013 draft- 4th round): Another player with deep local hockey ties and Bruins bloodlines (dad Tom Fitzgerald starred at Austin Prep and Providence College before embarking on a 1,000+-game NHL career). The former Malden Catholic Lancer and Valley Jr. Warrior just posted his best NCAA season as a junior at Boston College, tallying 24 goals and 47 points. Though not possessing ideal NHL size and speed, Fitzgerald is ultra-smart and competitive, often anticipating the play to gain a step on defenders and playing the game with unbridled energy and an edge. He’s often overlooked (guilty here) but has the kind of natural grit and characteristics that lead to pro hockey success. His ceiling might top out on the third line, but he could be an effective contributor there eventually. Current status: unsigned.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C (2015 draft- 2nd round): Stockholm native spent the two years prior to this one in the USHL with Omaha before joining the BU Terriers last fall. Highly intelligent, slick center immediately impressed his coaches and teammates with his maturity and complete game. Good hands and instincts- more of a set-up man than a finisher, he’s a right-handed shot and plays a similar style to that of Patrice Bergeron. Although he stands at about 6-foot-1, he’s quite lean with a lot of physical maturing to do. He’s on the verge of breaking out in a big way next season as a sophomore and is one of the players the Bruins are eagerly anticipating down the road. Current status: unsigned.

Jesse Gabrielle, LW (2015 draft- 4th round): Surprise! The 105th overall pick last June scored 40 goals for the Prince George Cougars and impressed with his aggressive speed and physical, agitating game. A lack of talent was not the reason he allegedly slipped down to the fourth round, and Gabrielle will get his opportunity to develop and grow within the Bruins organization as he matures and learns more about what it takes to be a pro. Unfortunately, he’s a 1997-born player, so unless he makes the NHL roster out of camp next fall (not all that likely) he’ll have to return to junior for the entire season. He did get three AHL games in with Providence at the end of the year, but did not suit up for the playoffs (no ELC in place). It’s easy to get excited about the 40-goal season, but it will be important for Gabrielle not to take steps backwards this season with expectations now higher. He looks like a future top-9 NHL forward but he’s going to need seasoning first. Current status: unsigned.

Cameron Hughes, C (2015 draft- 6th round): Entering the 2014-15 season, Hughes was thought of as top-three round prospect after starring with Spruce Grove of the AJHL, but he was underdeveloped physically and playing for a poor team in the Wisconsin Badgers. Things improved for Hughes this past year (5 goals, 25 points in 32 games), though Wisconsin was still below .500, costing head coach Mike Eaves his position. The Edmonton native is an above average playmaker who sees the ice beautifully and sets the table well. Watch for him to take the offense up a notch as a junior, but he needs to keep adding weight to his skinny frame, and will likely be asked to shoot the puck more. Current status: unsigned.

Emil Johansson, D (2014 draft- 7th round): After a pretty mediocre regular season, Johansson heated up in the final games and SHL playoffs, flashing the promise he had shown at ages 16 and 17 before being a late pick in 2014. He’s only an average-sized defenseman by pro hockey standards, but skates well, with good straight-line speed and lateral agility. Observers question his hockey IQ and ability to process the play quickly enough to be an impact player, but after going without a goal in the first 40 games, he tallied five in the final 16 (10 plus 6 playoff contests) for HV71. Expectations are still where they ought to be for a seventh-round pick, but he’s produced more in Swedish pro than 2013 second-rounder Linus Arnesson did. Current status: unsigned.

Zach Senyshyn, RW (2015 draft- 1st round): After scoring 26 goals as a fourth-liner with very little power play time, the 15th overall selection netted 45 in a much bigger role with the Soo Greyhounds. With his 6-foot-2 size, he’s an explosive skater who regularly beats defenses to the outside and displays a knack for jumping on openings and finishing off plays. He’s got a lot of work to do on his overall game, yet. The biggest knock on Senyshyn right now is his shift-to-shift consistency and a tendency to hang back looking for scoring chances rather than going into his own end and doing the grunt work for loose pucks with regularity. That’s not to say he’s a lazy player- he’s not- but he won’t beat out some of the other older, more advanced right wingers in the system with the goal scoring alone. It will be interesting to see how he fares at the July 12-15 development camp and then in September with the rest of the veterans now that he knows what is expected of him. He played like a first-round pick after the B’s were hammered in the court of public opinion for taking him where they did, but even with the big boost in offense, he’s not ready for primetime. Like Gabrielle, he can’t play in the AHL this season if he doesn’t make the NHL roster in October, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the B’s keep Senyshyn for an extended period and then send him back before he hits the 10-game limit. That will depend on him and how he looks in the fall. He’s already signed his ELC- a three-year pact at $925,000 per season, which goes into effect either when he begins playing in the AHL regularly or passes the 10-game mark in the NHL. It does not toll while he is still in the OHL.

Wiley Sherman, D (2013 draft- 5th round): Huge 6-foot-6 defenseman had a solid sophomore season, scoring his first three NCAA goals after not finding the back of the net in 2014-15 with Harvard. The former Hotchkiss Bearcat is still quite raw and remains a significant project who is nowhere close to making a case for an NHL job in Boston. He’s a good skater for one so big and has capable puck-moving ability. However, when the game closes in on Sherman and he’s forced to make decisions under duress, that’s when things start to go off the rails for him. You can’t coach his size and tremendous wingspan and reach, and it bears noting that there isn’t much of an offensive ceiling for him, but he could develop into a capable bottom-pairing guy with the investment of more work and patience. The Greenwich, Connecticut native is a good guy with a fine disposition, but doesn’t bring the kind of nasty, snarly temperament that would be embraced in Boston. Current status: unsigned.

Jakub Zboril, D (2015 draft- 1st round): Boston’s top choice (13th overall- acquired with the pick from Los Angeles for Milan Lucic) has the tools to be a top-three NHL defender but he raised some concerns after an average season. The Czech had a much better 2014-15 campaign, when he overcame an MCL injury to post 33 points in 44 games. This season, he missed time to some nagging injuries and the World Jr. tourney, but only managed 20 points in 50. Zboril had a much better playoffs with 10 points in 17 games as the Saint John Seadogs advanced to the third round of the QMJHL postseason before falling to Shawinigan. When on his game, this player can skate, shoot, pass and hit; he makes opponents pay the price for real estate in front of his net and has the skill and swagger of an effective two-way D at the highest level. Unfortunately, Zboril can go long stretches where he appears passive and disengaged. That lack of consistency was the biggest reason why he wasn’t ranked in the top tier of defenders in the 2015 draft class, and has stood in stark contrast to teammate and fellow first-rounder Thomas Chabot (Ottawa- 18th overall), who really emerged  as Danny Flynn’s go-to guy on the blue line this season. Zboril has the talent to play in the NHL right now…but is the maturity and self-discipline there? We’ll soon find out, but as a 1997-born player drafted in the CHL he has to make the Boston roster or go back to the ‘Q’. This is why we’re hearing whispers that Zboril may opt to play in Europe somewhere, but with that season beginning before NHL training camp starts up, any such decision will likely have to wait. He signed his ELC with Boston last summer- three years at $925k with the same caveat in place as Senyshyn (and Brandon Carlo/Jake DeBrusk’s ) deal.

*Should Carlo and DeBrusk play in the AHL next season, their ELC first year will toll for the 2016-17 season.

 

 

Update: final stats JFK, Grzelcyk, O’Gara

UPDATE 1 3/29/4:15 pm EST: TSP has confirmed that Rob O’Gara is signed and in the fold with Boston. Later this week, he will ink the ATO to join the Providence Bruins for the rest of the season. According to ESPN’s John Buccigross, Sean Kuraly is under contract as well. That would put the Bruins at 48  contracts (see update below), so it might be an indicator that Tanev is a bridge too far, so they’re getting Kuraly in the mix to start his pro career now. Also in play- the B’s could allocate their final contract spot on Matt Grzelcyk (more on him below).

Even more out of the box- Maxim Chudinov still technically belongs to the B’s but with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation holding the cards to a transfer of Chudinov to North America this late in the season, it’s a real long shot (h/t to friend Dominic Tiano for the connecting of the dots here). Just like Sweden did with Carl Soderberg back in 2013, the World Championship is coming up and Russia undoubtedly wants him for that event with Chudinov’s team out of the KHL playoffs. We’re not even sure Boston wants to sign Chudinov at this point (and I expressed my doubts about that in a previous post), but I guess we shall see. I wouldn’t close the book on Tanev just yet, but O’Gara is confirmed and with Kuraly appearing to be as well, that means there is one deal left- unless I got the math wrong, which is possible.

 

UPDATE 2 3/29/7:54 pm EST: Because of the ATOs, the confirmed contracts for O’Gara and Kuraly do NOT count against the 50-max limit for Boston. B’s currently at 48. Thanks to Dom for getting that information from someone in the know on CBA and contract-related stuff.

 

Original post:

Three more Boston Bruins prospects’ seasons ended in the NCAA over the weekend, with Boston University and Yale losing to Denver University and UMass-Lowell respectively.

Out of the NCAA tournament are BU Terriers Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Matt Grzelcyk. As reported on TSP yesterday, Rob O’Gara’s Yale Bulldogs fell in OT to UMass-Lowell and he should sign a 2-year entry-level deal with the Bruins real soon. What we don’t know yet is if the B’s will have him report to Providence to finish out the AHL season on an ATO (he won’t be eligible for the playoffs but can remain with the team to practice and work out with the minor league affiliate) but those details will follow.

Grzelcyk is in a similar boat: as a senior, his NCAA eligibility is exhausted, so he needs to be signed. Like Jimmy Vesey, he could opt for free agency on August 15 or sign with his hometown Bruins. TSP reached out to several sources about Grzelcyk’s status, but nothing solid has come back. In similar fashion to Sean Kuraly, the B’s can opt to wait on signing the BU captain until other contracts come off the books at the end of the season, but before the 15 August deadline to retain exclusive negotiating rights. The team could theoretically offer him an ATO to play in Providence, but without an NHL ELC in place, that would entail some risk on Grzelcyk’s part.

There has also been some below-the-radar buzz that the B’s were so impressed with JFK’s poise as a freshman that they might try to sign him right now (by right now I mean this offseason- not necessarily this week or next) and put him in the organization right away. That would be a tough loss to David Quinn’s Terriers, but if events of recent days are any indication, NHL teams might be forced to move earlier on prospects they feel strongly about rather than risk losing them to the existing NCAA loophole. Regardless, a decision on JFK doesn’t need to happen right now, so we’ll see how things play out in what is shaping up to be a very interesting offseason.

Don Sweeney and his team are still focused on trying to make the NHL playoffs, and given how much the Bruins were mocked at the 2015 NHL draft for what they were doing, they’re in a pretty decent spot as of right now. First things first, but signing O’Gara now makes sense and the team can afford to take a wait-and-see approach, especially with undrafted free agent Brandon Tanev still unsigned and the Bruins very much in the mix (though facing stiff competition from other serious suitors).

If Tanev signs along with O’Gara, that puts the Bruins at 49 contracts, so they might have to wait for the 2015-16 deals to expire before moving forward on anything else.

Here’s the final stats on JFK, Grzelcyk and O’Gara in the meantime. Since I covered him in depth in yesterday’s post, O’Gara’s writeup is a little thinner than the Terrier duo.

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Boston University (HEA)

2015-16 final statistics:

Games played: 39  Goals: 10  Assists: 20  Points: 30  Penalty Minutes: 28  +/-  4

2014-15 stats differential (USHL)

Games played: -11  Goals: -5  Assists: -18  Points: -23  Penalty Minutes: -10  +/-  -6

Season in review: After being the 45th overall selection in 2015 (incidentally the same exact draft position as that of Patrice Bergeron in 2003 and Ryan Spooner seven years later), JFK opened a lot of eyes around the Hockey East with his smooth, poised and refined game as a freshman, playing all 39 of his club’s games. At least two NHL scouts told TSP at various times during the season that JFK was the top player on the ice in games they witnessed, marveling at his smarts and ability to play such an effective and complete 200-foot game. The Stockholm native who spent the previous two years with Omaha of the USHL (a big reason for the disparity in statistics between his last junior season and first NCAA campaign) finished third on the team in scoring behind accomplished seniors Danny O’Regan (Sharks) and undrafted free agent Ahti Oksanen, a former defenseman who converted to forward as a junior. More impressive than the numbers, however, was JFK’s defensive presence on special teams and a polished, veteran-like ability in the faceoff dot.

Outlook: It would be interesting to see the B’s lure the 19-year-old out of school so soon, but not all that surprising. With the possible (probable?) departure of enigmatic center and restricted free agent Alexander Khokhlachev in the offseason, the Providence Bruins would have room to accommodate another young and talented pivot. One thing that could keep JFK at BU is that he’s on the lower spectrum of his physical development at present. Although he’s about 6-foot-1, he’s still pretty light at under 190 pounds and has one of those body types that will be hard to keep weight on his frame during the season. He’s not one of those players who pushes the pace throughout a game- he’s a good skater with a rangy stride, but at times will slow the play down and be more deliberate in the way he operates. We’ve seen him drive defenders back on their heels, so the capacity exists for JFK to be a dangerous offensive table-setter when he wants to be. Right now, he appears to be well on his way to eventually making the Bruins as a third-line center with top-two line upside who can do a little bit of everything for his team. Forsbacka-Karlsson draws a lot of comparisons to Bergeron in terms of his cerebral approach and versatility, but you couldn’t heap more pressure on a kid by likening him to No. 37, so we’ll have to see where it all leads. For now, the first of two second-round selections as part of the trio of picks acquired from Calgary last June for Dougie Hamilton, appears to be on track for bigger and better things in the not-too-distant future.

Matt Grzelcyk, D Boston University (HEA)

2015-16 final statistics:

Games played: 27  Goals: 10  Assists: 13  Points: 23  Penalty Minutes: 36  +/-  17

2014-15 stats differential (USHL)

Games played: -14  Goals: even  Assists: -15  Points: -15  Penalty Minutes: even  +/-  -15

Season in review: It was a tale of two hockey seasons for the second-year captain and Charlestown native who was picked in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft by his hometown team. He missed the beginning of the year recovering from knee surgery last May and wasted no time making his presence felt, only to injure the opposite knee just six games into his schedule, forcing him to miss 12 total contests on the year. He tied his previous season high of 10 goals, including netting his first career NCAA hat trick against UMass. His assist totals dipped, but considering the number of games lost to injury, put him on a comparable pace to his junior year totals of 28 helpers and 41 total points. Offense was more of a challenge for BU this season, and that shouldn’t come as a major surprise given the loss of 2015 MVP and Hobey Baker-winning center Jack Eichel to the NHL. Grzelcyk gutted it out by playing through the pain associated with an LBI, and when speed is your bread-and-butter, that’s a significant challenge to overcome. He did it without complaint and aplomb, which is typical of his character and why his teammates elected him captain in a landslide. Twice.

Outlook: Although undersized, Grzelcyk has the speed, vision and hockey IQ to be an impact NHLer one day. The easy comparison in playing style is Torey Krug, but outside of the size, the two are their own defender. The former Belmont Hill and U.S. National Team star who led the Americans to a fourth-consecutive gold medal at the U18 championship in 2012 is a faster skater and plays more of a finesse game than Krug’s natural scrappiness. Krug is an aggressive shooter and despite his woes this season at finding the back of the net is probably the better finisher at the NHL level than Grzelcyk will be if he makes it. Both players can carry the puck out of their own zone and when the defender known as “Grizzy” has the time and gets it cranked up in his own end, he can effortlessly go coast-to-coast with the speed and puckhandling ability to beat defenses that try and stand up at the blue line. As mentioned previously, he has no NCAA eligibility remaining, so the Bruins have until August 15 to sign him to an ELC. Because the team is up against the 50 contract limit, they may opt to kick the can down the road until they get some breathing room at the end of the NHL season. Such a decision doesn’t speak ill of Grzelcyk, and where he fits into the organization’s plans going forward, but might reflect a desire for him to have a chance to get healthy and be fully ready to go for the 2016-17 season. Signing him now and sending him to Providence opens the door to the possibility of further injury; not sure the cost-benefit is there just to play a few pro games to close out the year.

Rob O’Gara, D Yale University (ECAC)

2015-16 final statistics:

Games played: 30  Goals: 4  Assists: 8  Points: 12  Penalty Minutes: 41  +/-  5

2014-15 stats differential (USHL)

Games played: -3  Goals: -2   Assists: -7  Points: -9  Penalty Minutes: +10  +/-  -10

Season in review: The numbers were down from what was expected a year after O’Gara posted his best offensive season with six goals and 21 points, to lead the Yale blue line in scoring. Even so, the senior logged consistent minutes in all situations and played a lot with Ryan Obuchowski (undrafted) as coach Keith Allain’s most trusted pairing. In bigger context, Yale is not an offensive team, but limits goals against and scores just enough to come out on top more often than not. Fixating on the statistics does not tell the entire story, even if the scoring totals were a step back for O’Gara this year.

Outlook: The former prep star and graduate of the Long Island Royals minor hockey program has the size (6-4/220) and smarts plus a top-shelf attitude to develop into an anchor-type presence on the Boston blue line. He’s not a flashy, top-end kind of defenseman but is a player you win with. He’s continued to grow and progress since the B’s took a chance on him in the wake of their Stanley Cup victory, but more seasoning and refinement for him in the AHL before he’s ready for primetime wouldn’t be a bad thing. At the same time, O’Gara has the maturity and physical attributes/experience to be a pleasant surprise at Bruins camp next year and challenge for an NHL job as early as 2016-17. Given that we don’t know what kind of offseason changes lie ahead, especially to Boston’s defense as a whole, trying to project O’Gara in the short term is premature.

B’s prospects deep dive 2: Vatrano, Zboril, JFK & Subban

Due to the overwhelming response on the first end-of-regular season Boston Bruins prospects deep dive I did on Friday, I’m back with another iteration. I’m limiting these to five players maximum, not only because they can get pretty unwieldy in terms of reading with 2,000+ words a pop, but because they take some time to put together. If you don’t see the B’s prospect you’re most interested in, hang in there- I will get to every one of them between now and the next 1-2 weeks when the CHL and NCAA playoffs begin in earnest. Everything will build towards and culminate in an end-of-season ranking- similar to the one I did in the January issue of New England Hockey Journal.

So, without further ado- here’s the second deep dive. As always- appreciate the support and feedback.

Frank Vatrano, LW

The undrafted free agent from East Longmeadow, Mass. left the University of Massachusetts after his first full season nearly a year ago to sign with his childhood favorite Boston Bruins and became the Cinderella story of the 2015-16 hockey season.

In the span of a year, Vatrano reshaped his physique, tore apart the AHL with a four-goal game and multiple hat tricks en route to a goal-per-game performance (he’s cooled off a bit of late and “only” has 26 goals in 27 AHL games), and then earned his first NHL opportunity, debuting against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre and netting his first big league goal. He would eventually score his first NHL hat trick against Pittsburgh later on and although he was optioned back to Providence, he’s shown immense promise going forward.

Since his days in minor hockey and the Boston Jr. Bruins (as well as two years with the U.S. National Team in Ann Arbor), Vatrano has been a goal scorer. He’s long had an NHL release, which he showed off in dazzling fashion during the exhibition season last fall and then proved it was no fluke when he began terrorizing AHL goalies with Providence to begin the year. He has a natural nose for the net and sublime hands, which allow him to exploit gaps in defenses and find open spaces where he can get his heavy, accurate shot off with a minimal amount of time to work with. Vatrano is a born shooter- he generates a tremendous amount of torque and power on his shots and can pick the corners at will. He also has superior reflexes and hand/eye coordination to get his stick on shots for deflections and batted pucks into the net.

Not tall and with a naturally stocky build, Vatrano dedicated himself to improving his conditioning in the offseason after seeing a few games in Providence at the end of the 2015 campaign (5 games- 1 goal) and having a “come to Jesus” with the Bruins in his exit interviews. The results were staggering, as he not only saw the improved ability to take extended shifts and recover faster, but also picked up some speed and quickness in his first few steps. He’s got such a good hockey IQ that he can recognize developing plays well and explodes to the puck in just a few strides.

His defensive game is still a work in progress, but there is no denying that the will is there. He often hustles on the back check and has shown impressive open ice speed in winning foot races back to his own end for loose pucks. He’s one of those players who was previously asked to go out and score, so it’s not a question of whether he’s committed to playing more of a complete game, but just getting him the experience and situations that will allow him to be more effective when he inevitably returns to Boston for his next chance.

Current assessment: Vatrano is the top prospect in the pro ranks in the B’s organization. He’s proven that he can find the back of the net in the AHL and NHL and at this point is better off playing an extended role in Providence as a first liner and top power play ace. His 38 points in just 27 games in the AHL shows a dominance at that level that nobody, even his most ardent supporters, could have predicted at this time a year ago. Vatrano is a good kid (he turns 22 in a week) who is living the dream of being a Boston Bruin- he played at the Gillette Stadium in the 2016 Winter Classic- and is sure to build more experiences and memories. The good news for the B’s is that their offense has not been an Achilles heel this season, so Vatrano can spend more time getting the development in seasoning he needs rather than being more of a spare part and lower line option in Boston. This sets the conditions for him to go in and earn a top-9 NHL billet and gives the team some options to perhaps make some critical moves on defense by leveraging roster assets, knowing that players like Vatrano are in the system and could be ready to make the full-time jump next fall.

Jakub Zboril, D

Statistically speaking, it’s been a disappointing year for Boston’s top pick last June (13th overall- acquired with the draft choice that sent Milan Lucic to Southern California). A brutal start in September and October put the Czech native behind the 8-ball and while he’s shown improvement in his all-around play since he returned to the Saint John Sea Dogs from the World Jr. Championship in early January, there’s no getting around the fact that the production isn’t where it should be for one of his talents.

On the plus-side, Zboril has the physical attributes of the prototypical modern NHL defender: Good size, superb skater with a powerful stride/quick first few steps and an impressive glide, hard, heavy shot.  He has the natural vision and instincts to be a two-way threat and power play quarterback where he uses his agility to navigate the offensive blue line with ease and fires pucks to the net. Physically speaking, Zboril plays the game like a North American player- he’s known for throwing big hits and getting extra shots in (that often earn him extra time in the box). He’s obliterated surprised opponents in the past who made the mistaken assumption that Zboril was a soft Euro and dropped the gloves only to find they had a tiger by the tail.

All of these traits should endear him to the Bruins and their fans- it’s precisely what the team needs most in terms of upgrading the NHL roster’s blue line. However, many things in life are rarely so simple as that, and in Zboril’s case- there is more nuance here than meets the eye.

Even when he was rising on the team’s radar last year as the first of the second tier of defenders available in 2015 (it’s not really a secret that the Bruins coveted Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski and tried unsuccessfully to maneuver themselves into the top-5 and 10 to get one of the two) that Zboril came with some warts. Even though the B’s jumped on him with the first of three consecutive picks, his natural effort levels and compete  were a question mark. What’s interesting to me is that in some circles, Zboril was given high marks for his work ethic and hustle, but when I broke him down in film study, I saw a player who went through stretches of passive, even disengaged/uninterested play. Often times- that’s a simple thing: ineffectual waving at a forward as he skates by in the lane instead of gapping up and forcing him wide or disrupting his speed/momentum with body contact.

Current assessment: This season, the shift-to-shift inconsistency and wavering intensity levels have been more of the same with Zboril, unfortunately. He will demonstrate immense promise on one shift, revving up with the puck in his end and blitzing through the neutral zone to fire a shot on net or dish to a teammate in prime scoring position. Or, maybe it’s closing quickly with an opposing puck carrier and knocking him on his keister with a solid body check or deft poke check with his stick. But then a few shifts later, he’s gliding around, not asserting himself or taking advantage of opportunities to push the pace or impose his will in the same way.

The good news is- he just turned 19 at the end of last month and there is time for him to mature and develop more of a consistent game with coaching and experience. The question is becomes, however- does Zboril have it in his intangibles to be the player he *could* be given his prodigious natural gifts? That’s the proverbial $64,000 question, and why drafting and player development is an inexact science. On pure ability alone, Zboril could have been playing in Boston this year, but he’s got more work to do at developing his positional play and of course- on the aforementioned intangibles.

It’s no accident that the B’s tried to move up last June to take someone else- they likely saw the same things. Zboril is one of those boom-or-bust players and the reward with him could be key in the next 1-3 seasons, but just as the team has the responsibility to work with the player to put him in a position to succeed within the organization, the player also needs to raise his compete and do what is asked of him.

There is no doubt that Zboril should have been a first-round pick last June and that the B’s not only upgraded their prospect pool at the defense position with him but brought in the kind of high potential player you want as opposed to a safer but limited upside option. It is a bit intriguing that the B’s could have drafted Zboril’s Sea Dogs teammate Thomas Chabot instead (he went a few picks later to Ottawa) and Chabot is having a far more impactful season as Saint John’s No. 1 D, but that’s water under the bridge. Woulda, coulda, shoulda- if if’s and but’s were candy and nuts it would be Christmas every day of the year.

What happens with Zboril going forward will be interesting to watch. Unfortunately, as a 1997-born player drafted out of the CHL, he either makes Boston’s roster next fall or has to go back to the QMJHL (or he could opt to play in Europe) but AHL and Providence is not available to him as a developmental path in 2016-17.

JFK

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson aka “JFK”

 

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C

Taken with the 45th overall selection last June, “JFK” is one of the two second-rounders the B’s got from Calgary in the Dougie Hamilton trade (Senyshyn and D Jeremy Lauzon round out the three-pick haul for Boston) has been one of Boston University’s top adds this season.

He’s coming off a two-game sweep of UMass, the second game of which he scored a pair of goals and added an assist, which brings him to 9 goals, 28 points in 36 games for the Terriers as a freshman. He’s fourth on the team in scoring- tied with senior Matt Lane in points but Lane has 14 goals.

JFK has come as advertised this season: he’s a smart, smart player who brings a polished, advanced game for one who only turned 19 in the fall. He’s a good skater- quick to accelerate and smooth in the open ice. He’s faster than he looks, but doesn’t bring an electric presence with his skating. Often times- he might appear to be kind of gliding and coasting, but then he’s used that rangy, loping stride to slip by the defender at the blue line and is making a pinpoint pass to set up a scoring opportunity.

The Stockholm native, who spent two seasons in Nebraska playing in the USHL at Omaha getting used to the smaller ice surface and more rugged, physical nature of the North American game, has what scouts call 360-degree vision.  That’s the rare ability to not only see the entire play in front of him, but also a penchant for understanding what is behind him and on the periphery, so he often makes flawless drop passes or dishes that many other players simply aren’t capable of executing. He is most often compared to (by others I would point out) Patrice Bergeron, but while that’s a valid style comparison, I don’t think he’s as heavy on the puck at this stage of his development as Bergeron was even at a young age. However, the smarts, attitude and general ability to excel in all three zones appears to be there and JFK quickly earned David Quinn and his staff’s trust this year.

JFK was knocked in junior hockey for not playing with a lot of pace and urgency, and I can see those observations at times with BU this year. He’s not a player who is buzzing around the zone the way other high-energy forwards do, but he’s an economy of motion type who has the hockey sense and skill set to do a little more with less. It’s not going to win him many style points, but it’s effective. He’s slick and creative- your mind starts to wander a bit in terms of what he’s bringing to the table and all of the sudden he’ll make a play and bring your focus right back to what all the talk has been about.

He’s legit.

Current assessment: As one who advocates patience and not rushing prospects into the fray so to speak, I would not be at all surprised if the Bruins try to coax JFK into turning pro right away. With Bergeron and David Krejci about to both be on the other side of 30 (Bergeron turns 31 in July, Krejci hits 30 late next month), the B’s need to get another quality center into the pipeline sooner rather than later, even with the success Ryan Spooner is enjoying this year.

That’s probably an alarming prospect to the BU team and its fans, and I won’t say that it’s a done deal by any stretch, but I have been hearing a lot of positive buzz on JFK this year and because he plays that position that the B’s could have a developmental opening for in Providence next season, it would makes sense from an organizational standpoint to see that push come when the NCAA season is done.

Bottom line- Forsbacka-Karlsson is mature and plays a refined enough game that he could make a seamless jump to pro hockey now, but if the team and player feel it is in his best interest to return to school, he’ll be the top center and a good bet to take it to another level in 2016-17. Either way, he’s a top prospect who may not have a huge NHL ceiling in terms of offense, but is the kind of forward who will play for a decade-plus and bring consistent production and the kind of 200-foot play that a winning foundation is built on.

Malcolm Subban, G

It was a tale of two seasons for Boston’s top choice in 2012, but Malcolm Subban was playing the best hockey of his professional career when a shot in warmups hit him up under the mask and fractured his larynx. That serious injury will end up costing him more than two months of the season, but the team and its fans should be encouraged by what he put together in December and January before suffering that personal misfortune.

Always a brilliant athlete whose physical prowess in the net was clearly on display, Subban’s development has been steady and methodical because he came to the position late after years on defense and needed significant coaching on technique. He’s come a long, long way since the draft and is on the cusp from establishing himself as an NHL regular in Boston with the backup spot up for grabs next season.

I’ve always admired how explosive his movements are in net- Subban’s pads are some of the quickest in pro hockey and can be tough to beat down low when he’s able to keep his legs horizontal and seal the posts from east-to-west. He’s always been one who plays deep in his net, and the good news is- he has the athletic ability to get by with that, even if he’s been consistently coached to play out at the top of the crease more and improve his positioning to reduce shooting angles. When you play along the goal line, your margin of error goes down, so this is something that Subban has continued to work on. His glove is has shown significant improvement since he turned pro for the 2013-14 season, and Subban has all the tools to not only make the NHL, but establish himself as a starter at the highest level eventually.

He battled through a LBI that cost him the month of October to start the AHL’s regular season and was rusty when he got into the Providence crease for November. Things went from bad to worse, as the focus seemed off and his statistics- especially the save percentage plummeted down near the bottom of all AHL goaltenders. There were whispers about the attention to detail and willingness to work at addressing the flaws in his game and things seemed to snowball. To Subban’s credit, however, he righted the ship in December and earned the trust of Bruce “Butch” Cassidy and Kevin Dean in Providence- getting the bulk of starts and rolling off some impressive victories in both December and January.

Just as he had truly seized the No. 1 job in Providence for the first time in three pro seasons there, he took the shot in the throat in Portland and has been on the shelf since, opening the door for Jeremy Smith to return to the PB’s. Both Smith and Zane McIntyre have done a good job of keeping the good times rolling.

Current assessment: Subban is maintaining a good attitude about the injury and the corresponding rehab, which required surgery and established an eight-week minimum timetable for return around the beginning of April. It’s unfortunate that he’s had to take a step backwards, but the Bruins can afford to be patient given that Providence is getting good goaltending from Smith and McIntyre right now.

Back when Boston signed Tuukka Rask to his big ticket extension, a lot of folks engaged me wanting to know when the B’s would trade Subban. I think this injury should serve as a reminder of the importance of goaltending depth in any organization. Just because you have an established No. 1 like Rask does not mean it is mutually exclusive for a player of Subban’s potential to succeed in Boston as well. While that won’t preclude the Bruins from entertaining offers for him if they come in, it would have to be about value and given the elite-level showing Subban brought before his injury, he looks to be ready to take that next important step next season as Rask’s backup.

For now, we’ll wish him great speed and success in his recovery- it will be interesting to see how the long layoff affects Subban and how slowly he’s integrated back into the lineup when he returns. But, after two mostly up-and-down years in the AHL, he’s finally really turning the corner and establishing himself as the player Boston thought enough of to pick in the first round for only the third time in the team’s history (Evgeni Ryabchikov was the first in 1994 and it wasn’t pretty; Hannu Toivonen in 2002 at least brought Carl Soderberg in trade, but the track record in net for 1sts= not great).

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back in a day or two with the next installment with some of the “ministers of defense” in the prospect ranks: Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara, Zane McIntyre and Jeremy Lauzon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruins Prospects Update 11/16/15

It has been a tough season for the goalies in Providence.

Malcolm Subban missed just about a month with a lower body injury suffered before the start of the year and has been mediocre at best (and that might be putting it mildly) since returning to the lineup. Zane McIntyre is a gamer, but he’s undergoing  a challenging transition, which only further underscores the folly and foolishness displayed by some who really thought he should just waltz into the NHL backup spot behind Tuukka Rask without having seen a single shot at the pro level. McIntyre is a terrific competitor and will eventually right the ship, but he’s struggling at the AHL level right now.

As for Subban, much bigger things are expected of him, and the 2012 first-rounder needs to start showing more consistency in his preparation and execution. If the B’s had toyed with the idea of trading him in order to get a nice return, they can shelve those plans, because Suban’s value is down is right now. He needs to get back to basics.

Austin Czarnik returned to the Providence lineup and not a moment too soon with Alex Khokhlachev now out with a bad hand. The diminutive former Hobey Baker finalist picked up where he left off, tallying a goal and assist in three games.

The NCAA prospects had another big week, which included a 2-goal, 4-point night from Ryan Fitzgerald and Wiley Sherman’s first career NCAA goal in his second year with Harvard. BU center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson had another strong weekend and is getting positive reviews by NHL scouts who all point to the uncommon maturity of his game for one in just his first collegiate season. NU defenseman Matt Benning got his second goal of the year, significant in that he went all of 2014-15 without scoring once, though still managed to lead the Huskies in scoring from the blue line.

AHL

Alex Khokhlachev, C Providence Bruins

GP- 11 Goals- 4 Assists- 9 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 2 +/- 6

Hand injury; did not play.

Austin Czarnik, C Providence Bruins

GP- 7 Goals- 2 Assists- 5 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 6 +/-  5

Czarnik returned to the lineup after missing seven games; if he can stay healthy, he’ll infuse the Providence lineup with much-needed speed, skill and energy.

Tommy Cross, D Providence Bruins

GP- 10 Goals- 0 Assists- 7 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 25 +/- -4

Chris Casto, D Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 0 Assists- 7 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -9

Seth Griffith, RW Providence Bruins

GP- 7 Goals- 2 Assists- 4 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 4 +/- -3

Colby Cave, C Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 5 Assists- 1 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 4 +/- -4

Colton Hargrove, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 11 Goals- 3 Assists- 1 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -2

Expected to be more of an enforcer type of forward this season, Hargrove has been one of the more consistent players providing scoring from the lower lines.

Anton Blidh, LW Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 4 Assists- 0 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 8 +/- -1

Noel Acciari, C Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 1 Assists- 2 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 7 +/- -3

Former Bishop Hendricken and Providence College captain scored his first career professional goal over the weekend.

Linus Arnesson, D Providence Bruins

GP- 14 Goals- 0 Assists- 1 Points- 1 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -2

Malcolm Subban, G Providence Bruins

GP- 5 MIN- 304 GA- 19 GAA- 3.75 Spct- ..850 W- 1 L-3 OTL 1

Zane McIntyre, G Providence Bruins

GP- 8 MIN- 480 GA- 26 GAA- 3.25 Spct- .875 W- 2 L- 3 OTL- 3

 

OHL

Zach Senyshyn, RW Saulte Ste Marie Greyhounds

GP- 20 Goals- 10 Assists- 5 Points- 15 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -6

 

QMJHL

Jeremy Lauzon, D Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

GP- 19 Goals- 3 Assists- 24 Points- 27 Penalty Min- 34 +/- +19

Jakub Zboril, D Saint John Sea Dogs

GP- 16 Goals- 3 Assists- 4 Points- 7 Penalty Min- 20 +/- 2

 

WHL

Jake DeBrusk, LW Swift Current Broncos

GP- 14 Goals- 6 Assists- 14 Points- 20 Penalty Min- 13 +/- -3

Groin injury; DNP

Jesse Gabrielle, LW Prince George Cougars

GP- 19 Goals- 14 Assists- 6 Points- 20 Penalty Min- 29 +/-  1

Big week for Gabrielle, who scored three goals and five points in three games and continues to turn heads in the WHL. By comparison he had 10 goals and 19 points in 33 games with the Regina Pats after a mid-season trade last season. He’s well on his way to beating all of his previous career highs.

Brandon Carlo, D Tri-City Americans

GP- 11 Goals- 1 Assists- 7 Points- 8 Penalty Min- 32 +/- -3

Carlo is injured and did not play this past week.

 

NCAA

Ryan Fitzgerald, F Boston College Eagles (HEA)

GP- 9 Goals- 7 Assists- 6 Points- 13 Penalty Min- 27 +/- 13

Anders Bjork, LW University of Notre Dame (HEA)

GP- 10 Goals- 2 Assists- 8 Points- 10 Penalty Min- 2 +/- 10

Danton Heinen, LW Denver University Pioneers (NCHC)

GP- 10 Goals- 4 Assists- 4 Points- 8 Penalty Min- 0 +/- 4

Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C Boston University Terriers (HEA)

GP- 10 Goals- 3 Assists- 8 Points- 11 Penalty Min- 8 +/- 2

2 goals and 2 assists in 2 games over the weekend put JFK second on the team in scoring behind Sharks prospect Danny O’Regan.

Ryan Donato, C Harvard University (ECAC)

GP- 6 Goals- 3 Assists- 2 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 6 +/- 3

No points in two games played for Donato this week.

Sean Kuraly, C Miami University (NCHC)

GP- 12 Goals- 1 Assists- 4 Points- 5 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -6

The Miami captain finally got off the schneid to record his first goal of the season over the weekend.

Matt Grzelcyk, D Boston University (HEA)

GP-4 Goals 2 Assists- 2 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 10 +/- 3

Cameron Hughes, C University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)

GP- 10 Goals- 1 Assists- 3 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 2 +/- -2

Matt Benning, D Northeastern University (HEA)

GP- 11 Goals- 2 Assists- 2 Points- 4 Penalty Min- 15 +/- -9

Wiley Sherman, D Harvard University (ECAC)

GP- 6 Goals- 1 Assists- 2 Points- 3 Penalty Min- 4 +/- 2

Sherman tallied his first career NCAA goal in game No. 43 for the Crimson.

 

Rob O’Gara, D Yale University (ECAC)

GP- 6 Goals- 0 Assists- 2 Points- 2 Penalty Min- 8 +/- 2

 

Europe

Peter Cehlarik, LW Lulea (Sweden)

GP- 14 Goals- 3 Assists- 3 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -2

Emil Johansson, D HV71 (Sweden)

GP- 16 Goals- 0 Assists- 2 Points- 2 Penalty Min- 12 +/- -2

Maxim Chudninov, D St Petersburg SKA (Russia)

GP- 24 Goals- 5 Assists- 4 Points- 9 Penalty Min- 71 +/- -5

USHL

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls (USHL)

GP- 15 Goals- 2 Assists- 4 Points- 6 Penalty Min- 0 +/- -3

No points in three games for the 7th rounder since last update.

Daniel Vladar, G Chicago (USHL)

GP- 9 MIN- 490 GA- 19 GAA- 2.33 Spct .912 SO- 1; 1-4-2

Vladar’s only action last week came in 21 minutes of relief of a losing effort, where he allowed no goals.

The third Jake: Forsbacka-Karlsson

My desire to be clever with the Jack Nicholson tie-in to the previous post, plus the fact that center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson was not participating in the Canada-Czech Republic game means he deserves a post to himself.

JFK is donning the scarlet and white, but don't be surprised if he trades that for the black and gold soon enough.

JFK is donning the scarlet and white, but don’t be surprised if he trades that for the black and gold soon enough.

The Stockholm native who came to the U.S. two years ago was a smart pick by the Boston Bruins, who snatched him up with the 45th overall selection. Other guys the B’s have landed at that precise position have done alright for the team: there’s Ryan Spooner in 2010, Patrice Bergeron in 2003 and Henry “the Medicine Hat Machine” Kuster in 1996. Wait, what?…Okay, so two outta three ain’t bad. (Kuster was a member of another disastrous Bruins draft class which pre-dated 2007 by 11 years but was just as unproductive.)

‘JFK’ who is taking his game to Boston already- though he’ll be plying his trade on Comm. Ave vs. Causeway Street- is a slick, promising two-way pivot who has Bruins hockey written all over him. The Bruins like to break down draft prospects into the 5 S’s: Size, Skating, Shot, Sense and Spirit (read: character, work ethic, toughness, leadership- the key intangibles) so, I’ll give a swag on him- watched him live at Omaha last season and many times on film including a little online action at Bruins development and USA national eval camps, so here we go:

Size: His listed 6-1, 195 vitals are a tad generous, but he’s got long limbs and will have enough strength to hold his own. He doesn’t have the frame to pack on much more mass, and it probably would work against him in so doing. He just needs to work on his upper- and lower-body strength as best he can while maintaining a healthy playing weight.

Skating: He’s an average skater who has a long enough stride, but lacks suddenness in his first few steps and does not possess a top-end gear. He moves pretty well laterally, and has the ability to jitterbug through lanes with an easy agility that makes him a difficult mark to line up in the open ice. Let’s face it- he’s not going to be a burner, but neither is Bergeron. He just needs to improve his short-area burst as much as he can and he’ll be mobile enough to succeed at the next level.

Shot: He doesn’t shoot the puck enough, but the raw tools are there for him to find the back of the net more often than his 26 times in 110 career USHL games with the Lancers. He kind of reminds me of an early NHL Adam Oates in that he’s always looking to dish and hit that open man for a prime scoring chance rather than unleash it himself.  He’s got a pro-caliber release and is pretty accurate with it, so getting more pucks on net will be key for him. When it comes to passing and puck skills, he’s smooth and efficient, carrying the biscuit with confidence and able to feather touch-passes for tap-ins or zip sauce feeds through traffic for the one-timer. He’s at his best when keeping it simple instead of employing cute toe-drags or dangles that work at the lower levels. As the late and legendary American coach Herb Brooks once said- “You’re not talented enough to win on talent alone,” and that applies to JFK.

Sense: JFK’s bread and butter- he’s intelligent and creative. He is what you would call an instinctive 200-foot player in that he can read the play, sense where the puck is going and put himself in position to make plays both offensively and defensively. He’s got that knack for understanding where he is in terms of time and space and can seamlessly transition from defense to offense in a heartbeat. He’s smart and disciplined enough not to make low percentage plays and is unselfish with the puck.  If he had that explosive initial burst, you’d see JFK zooming off on more breakaways… He’s extremely adept in the face-off circle, using a quick stick and some savvy strategies to win the bulk of his draws. As he gets stronger, he’ll get even better. I don’t know that he’ll be a top scoring threat in the NHL, but he’ll be one of those dependable role guys who makes his bones more in the playoffs at crunch time as opposed to putting up big regular season numbers.

Spirit: He’s a nice kid who speaks flawless English and is also a good teammate. He isn’t shy about naming Bergeron as the player he most tries to emulate and being around PB37 (when he eventually turns pro) will be great for JFK. He’s not a particularly gritty, fiery or tough to play against kind of guy, though. If you’re looking for urgency or someone who can really push the pace of a game the way a revved up Bergeron can (go back and watch Game 7 vs. Toronto in 2013 if you don’t know what I’m talking about), you’ll be disappointed with Forsbacka-Karlsson. He’s competitive, but not fiery…he skates hard, he’s just not coming at opponents in relentless fashion or putting defenses on their heels. He’s consistent and steady in his approach, and that isn’t a bad thing at all.

Outlook: This is a solid prospect- the kind of player you eventually win with, but he’s not flashy and isn’t going to come in and win a bunch of scoring titles. Fans should be patient with him, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him earn a big enough role as a freshman under David Quinn at BU this season because of his ability to play a disciplined game and excel on the PK. I see him as an ideal third-line center one day who might do some damage against other third-line units and lower defense pairings, but he’s going to take a while to develop and get himself in that kind of position to contribute.

Ask not what this prospect can do for you…ask what you can do to be patient and watch him grow.